Pakistan: An historic gathering of workers and peasants
By Farooq Tariq
February 1, 2010 -- An historic gathering took place at Faisalabad, the third largest city in Pakistan, on January 29, 2010. The event was jointly organised by the Labour Qaumi (National) Movement (LQM) and the Anjuman Mozareen Punjab (AMP -- Punjab Tenants' Association), two movements of workers and peasants that, by their defiant activities in several Punjabi districts, have caught the imagination of thousands. For the first time, these two important movements of workers and peasants in Punjab shared a common platform.
The famous Dhobi Ghat parade ground was a sea of red flags that caught the attention of the incoming crowd. Several bookstalls by left-wing organisations and publishers reminded me of the 1960s. Many hundreds visited the stalls.
The high point of the conference was the arrival of peasants from areas including Lahore, Okara, Depalpur, Renala Khurd and Kulyana Military Estate. After travelling from different areas of the country, more than 3000 peasants joined one procession. They wore their traditional dress and carried Dhool Damaka (drums).
Earlier, on January 27-28, 140 delegates from the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) held their fifth national congress in the same city, and leaders of the two movements participated in the congress as delegates.
For two weeks prior to the conference, Faisalabad was decorated with the red flags of the LPP and of the LQM. LQM activists worked day and night in order to cover all the roads with its signs. Normally only the parties of the rich are able to muster resources enough to colour the city. In this case, however, activists’ sheer determination to reach as many people as possible got out the message of a new labour-peasant movement. Banners, posters and wall-chalking signaled the message.
During a time of daily suicide attacks and bomb blasts, holding the workers-peasant conference was a significant development, uniting the underprivileged class under their own leadership. Aside from religious gatherings and rallies, it has been a long time since that many workers and peasants have gathered together in Punjab.
The conference took place in a tense atmosphere, so only committed activists and workers of the two movements participated. Altogether there were more than 10,000 participants. City officials prepared for any unwanted incident by installing security doors and placing ambulances and fire brigade buses on the site. (We had hoped to mobilise 30,000 but in this atmosphere many local sympathisers stayed home.)
Following the end of the conference, a young worker from Faisalabad told me, “I have come here to see what a labour and peasant conference is. Now I have a telephone number of Mian Abdul Qayum, the LQM leader; I am going to organise workers in my factory.” At present, there is no union at his textile factory in Faisalabad.
Several social organisations, including South Asia Partnership, Pakistan Institute for Research and Education (PILER), Patan Taraqiyati Tanzeem, Women Workers Help Line and others, mobilised the women for the event alongside the AMP and LQM. More than 1000 women participated: peasant women from Okara Military Farms and other areas, as well as women workers from different factories.
The two main conference slogans were for the issuing of social security cards to all industrial workers and land ownership rights to the Mozareen of the military farms. But solidarity and revolutionary slogans were very prominent: “Workers of the world unite”, “One’s sorrow is everyone’s sorrow”, “Long live working-class solidarity”, “Those who cultivate should sow”, “Asia is red”, “Give one more push to demolishing walls”, Socialism is the only answer”, “Revolution is our path”, “Struggle is our strategy”, “Ownership of land or death”, “Trade union rights, our human right”, “Issue social security cards”, “Down with capitalism and feudalism”, “No to the IMF and World Bank”, “Down with American imperialism”, “No to US drone attacks and religious fundamentalism”, “For a peaceful democratic Pakistan”, “Equal rights for women”, “No to discriminatory laws”, “Stop violence”, “Give peace a chance”.
The conference was chaired by Mian Abdul Qayum and the proceedings were conducted by Aslam Meraj, the LQM's secretary. Speakers stressed the need for worker and peasant unity to defeat the politics of the rich and feudal. They demanded that all agricultural land occupied by the military farms' administration be given to the tenants, who have been working these lands for more than 100 years. They called for implementation of the minimum wage in all factories and for a 15,000 rupee (US$160) monthly wage. They announced their intention of participating in the coming local government elections in Faisalabad and other cities. They condemned the atrocities of the military in Baluchistan and announced full solidarity with Baluch people in fighting exploitation and injustice. They demanded the recovery of the missing persons.
Wide range of speakers
Speakers came from all over Pakistan, as well as from France and Australia. They included: Rasul Buksh Paleejo, leader Awami Tehreek; Pierre Rousset of France's New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA); Simon Butler of the Socialist Alliance of Australia; Mehr Abdul Sattar, secretary of the Anjuman Mozareen Punjab; Bushra Khaliq, secretary of the Women Workers Help Line; Asim Sajad Akhtar, organiser of the Peoples Rights Movement; Younas Rahu, secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, Sindh chapter; Mohammed Yousaf Baluch, chair of the National Trade Union Federation; Safdar Sindhu, secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation; Ayub Qureshi of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation; Atif Jamil Pegan of the Harmony Foundation; myself and several others.
Simon Butler, from the Socialist Alliance in Australia, addresses the January 29 rally.
Several more on the platform included Jamil Umer of the Awami Jamhoori Forum and leader of the Coordination Committee of Progress parties: Mohmmed Tehseen, executive director of the South Asia Partnership; Sarwar Bari, executive director Patan Taraqiyati Tanzeem; Khalid Mahmud, director of the Labour Education Foundation; Begum Sabeeha, head of Khaksaar Tehreek: Nasim Bajwa, an eminent human rights lawyer from the United Kingdom; Zulfiqar Shah of PILER; Ashraf Nadeem, Mian Ashraf, Noor Nabi, Shabir Ahmad and Malik Saleem Jakar of the AMP; Baba Jan, LPP Gilgit Baltastan; Abdul Jalal, LPP Swat; and Nasir Mansoor, LPP national labour secretary.
Speakers saw the conference as an historic beginning of today’s working-class politics in Pakistan. “It is new start and it will not be the last event in this regard. We reject the economic and political policies of the present Pakistan government, which are dictated by US imperialism”, said one.
They commented that IMF and World Bank policies are adding misery and poverty to the everyday life of the working class. They refused to accept the dictates of IMF and World Bank. They demanded that the government stop privatisation and provide subsidies for agricultural inputs. At the same time, they demanded that the government end discriminatory legislation: all citizens of Pakistan must be treated equally in the eyes of the law and constitution. Finally, they noted they were sick and tired of the in-fighting of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League Nawaz. They do not battle over issues of concern to the working class but only on how to share power and status.
Speaker after speaker stressed the need for an independent politics from those parties of the rich. Many pointed to worker and peasant unity at the conference as a practical alternative. Speakers urged the government to end poverty, price hikes, unemployment and the power crisis.
Pierre Rousset, a leader of NPA France and organiser of Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres (ESSF), said the French workers had secured their social security rights after years of struggle. Nonetheless, aided by the World Trade Organization, multinational companies were trying to deprive ordinary people throughout Europe of their basic rights. The response needed is concrete international solidarity by the workers of all countries, Rousset said.
Simon Butler of the Socialist Alliance of Australia conveyed revolutionary greetings from socialists in Australia, mentioning that Pakistan and Australia might be opponents in the cricket but the workers of both countries will unite to fight poverty and unemployment together.
For all those attending, the conference was very positive. Most felt the power of unity: “We did this despite all the threats of security. The police kept pushing us to restrict the event inside the grounds, however, we carried out our own plan and we did well”, Rana Tahir, one of the main LQM leaders, told me.
“It was like an Eid day for the Faisalabad powerloom workers. We are all happy with the outcome. It is beginning of working-class politics in the city. Just six years on, the LQM did what the big parties cannot do. It was a challenge to fill the ground and we did it. “We feel the power, the power of the working class to change the society. If we can do this, we can do many more things in support of the workers. Now the administration has to listen to us and take us seriously”, he commented after the rally.